News about the forest fires in Russia appears in our news feeds less and less frequently, but the problem has not gone away. Today, August 9, the peak of the forest fires was recorded, and yet firefighters are battling the blazes in only seven percent of the affected areas. We have to deal with his problem not only by taking emergency measures but also by engaging in year-round prevention. Volunteer forest fighters tell children and adults about the fires and help extinguish outbreaks at the early stages. But they lack money for training and doing their jobs.
All the money raised when people listen to this track on streaming services will go to purchase backpack pumps, spray guns, and navigators. It will also cover other vital expenditures in Greenpeace Russia’s campaign to combat fires in natural areas, including amending school textbooks, some of which have been found to give erroneous advice on extinguishing and preventing fires.
From August 16, the new track will be available on all other venues. As soon as we get the first stats on the number of listens, we will start helping out financially. Reports will be posted here and on other social networks.
On August 9, Valentin Tarabrin commented, “These fires are a cover-up for illegal deforestation. Millions of hectares are being cut down. Open Google Map and you will see nothing is left of Siberia. These fires are deliberate arson.”
Smoke from fires usually moves east or north, but this time it is moving west. Thus, the smoke has engulfed Siberian cities and has reached the Urals. The smell of burning is reported in the Volga Region and Tatarstan.
The wind that changed its direction is expected to bring the smoke to Kamchatka. It may even reach other continents across the ocean, which means it will become a planetary-scale disaster.
Kuksin believes that the smoke will continue to affect the region for a few more weeks. Heavy rain is needed to extinguish such a large fire, but no precipitation is expected.
The expert believes it necessary to reconsider the area of control and implement special measures to avoid similar situations in the future.
Why There Are So Many Forest Fires in Russia The scale and aftermath of the disasters are exacerbated by the consumerist mindset of authorities and the lack of resources in a weak economy
Vladimir Ruvinsky Vedomosti
July 29, 2019
Dense smoke from forest fires has covered cities in Siberia, the Urals, and the Volga region. The fires could have been dealt with at an early stage, but regional authorities avoid fighting fires when they can avoid it due to a lack of money and means.
According to Greenpeace Russia, the fires have encompassed over three million hectares of forest, an area comparable in size to Belgium. The total for the spring and summer of 2019 is eleven million hectares, an area larger than Portugal. During this century, 2003 and 2012 saw worse fire seasons, but Grigory Kuksin of Greenpeace Russia says the records set during those years will probably be beaten this week. Usually, the smoke from the fires drifts towards the sparsely populated east and north. This year, however, the fires have attracted more attention since the smoke has drifted westwards, towards Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, and Kazan.
The current fires are largely a consequence of decision-making by Russian authorities. More than 90% are the burning fires are located in so-called monitoring zones, areas where regional authorities may not fight fires if the expenditures on extinguishing exceed the damage they cause. This regulation was adopted in 2015 when Russian federal authorities basically legalized what had been an implicit rule during Soviet times. But the Soviet authorities had, in fact, fought fires in remote areas. Nowadays, regional governors are not officially obliged to fight them. They take advantage of this, especially because they lack money and equipment.
While Russia has lots of woodlands, its economy is too week to fight all forest fires. Kuksin argues that the gigantic monitoring zones could be decreased while increasing prevention measures and using available resources to better effect. Most fires are caused by people: they are mainly sparked when loggers burn residue wood in logging areas. Such fires could definitely be put out immediately, but local authorities have made a practice of refusing to fight them. They are the major cause of the biggest fires, which have turned into insoluble problems that only the rains can solve.
The way the authorities see things, the anticipated costs of putting out fires in the monitoring zones are always higher than the damage caused by them. The damage caused by forest fires is primarily calculated in terms of the minimum price of timber. This cost can be written off (and if not, there is no damage), i.e., forest fires often cost almost nothing in terms of official damages. However, as Konstantin Kobyakov, an environmentalist at WWF Russia, points outs, Russia loses three times more forest in fires annually (three million hectares) than the forest industry removes (one million hectares), meaning the country already faces a deficit of woodlands that will only keep growing.
Kuksin recalls that gas and oil industry infrastructure, such as pipelines, is located in the monitoring zones, and uncontrolled blazes are approaching hundreds of villages and small towns. Damage assessment does not account for air and water pollution or the real harm caused to people’s health by acrid smoke, which is harder to calculate but does considerably increase mortality. In addition, stable high-pressure systems have formed over the gigantic fire zone in Siberia, triggering abnormally heavy rains along the perimeter. The fires generate a lot of greenhouse gases and soot, which accelerates the melting of arctic ice and climate change, meaning they increase the risk of more fires in the future.
The EU Dangerous Substances Directive classifies methyl mercaptan as “very toxic.” Why has the Russian government increased its maximum allowable concentration in the air by sixty times? Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Russia Raises Limits for Airborne Toxic Chemicals Sixtyfold finanz.ru
February 19, 2019
The Russian Federal Sanitation and Epidemiology Service and national consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor have drastically raised the maximum allowable concentrations (MACs) of harmful substances in the air, including formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, and methyl mercaptan, a chemical typically emitted by waste landfills.
The current MAC of methyl mercaptan in the air is sixty times higher than it was ten years ago and 660 times higher than it was in 1999, Greenpeace Russia has reported in a press release.
Moreover, the new MAC for methyl mercaptan exceeds the odor threshold by one and a half to three times, meaning the level at which people living near waste landfills can smell the substance.
Greenpeace Russia noted that the MACs of a number of other air pollutants were increased in 2014 and 2015, for example, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide.
According to the previous standards, about 50 million Russians lived in cities where formaldehyde concentrations had been exceeded. After the MACs were relaxed, the statistics “improved.” They now show, allegedly, that fewer cities are at risk, and only 20 million Russians may be affected by increased concentrations of carcinogens.
“However, according to assessments by Russian and international scientists, the risks presented by formaldehyde concentrations under the new, current guidelines correspond neither to the standards adopted by the Russian Federation nor common sense,” writes Greenpeace Russia, noting that phenol, formaldehyde, and methyl mercaptan are poisons. Constantly inhaling them increases toxicity in the body and reduces immunity.
“This is one of the factors contributing to a manifold increase of the incidence of flu and acute respiratory infections over the last twenty years,” Greenpeace Russia claimed in its press release.
As grounds for its decision to raise the MACs, Rospotrebnadzor refers to complex toxicological, sanitary, and epidemiological studies, as well as an analysis of international practices, but it refused to provide the specific research findings, Greenpeace Russia reported.
The Human Ecology and Environmental Hygiene Research Institute, which reports to Rospotrebnadzor, claimed no such research had been conducted whatsoever, and all it had provided to Rospotrebnadzor were background, reference materials. But even they were not taken into account when the decision was taken to increase the MACs for phenol and formaldehyde.
On February 18, Greenpeace Russia sent an open letter to the relevant committees in State Duma, the Russian Security Council, the Russian Health Ministry, the Russian Natural Resources Ministry, Rospotrebnadzor, and Rosprirodnadzor, the Russian natural resources watchdog. In the letter, Greenpeace Russia pointed out that the unwarranted changes to the sanitary norms jeopardized the implementation of the priority national environment and health projects.
Thanks to Julia Murashova and the Coalition to Defend Petersburg for the heads-up. See my previous entry, “Denis Stark: Welcome to the Clean Country,” on the topic of waste management in Russia. Translated by the Russian Reader
“A Project like This Is Impossible in Russia”: Why the Public Refrigerator Has Closed Forever The organizer of the first public refrigerator in Russia explains why European know-how did not catch on here
Julia Galkina The Village
November 16, 2016
The first public refrigerator opened on Sunday, November 13, in Petersburg, outside the Thank You! charity shop on Vasilyevsky Island. The organizers had hoped that all comers would put unwanted food in the refrigerator and freely taked it. The refrigerator operated for exactly one day. (Read Greenpeace’s report about what that looked like.) On Monday, November 14, state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor sealed the refrigerator, explaining, “We welcome charity, but the present case concerns not items for the poor, but food products. With all due respect to the organizers, if food poisoning happens and someone gets hurts, Petersburgers will blame us.” On Tuesday, November 15, the organizers abandoned the idea and removed the refrigerator, remarking that “the project is not compatible with Russian legislation.” Now they “are looking for other forms of foodsharing offline.”
“As far as I know, the public refrigerators in European countries also work on the person-to-person system, the same way we wanted to organize it. The authorities there do not interfere with the work of such projects. In Russia, on the contrary, it didn’t take off, unfortunately.
“Thank You! was the only team in the city who agreed to try out the public refrigerator project with us. They made their porch available. We did all the prep work together, printing stickers and distributing adverts. It was a completely joint project. We did not vet anything with officials. We thought about it, but probably we counted on the good experience in western countries.
“People brought a lot of products—sweets, fruits, and so on—right at opening time. The refrigerator opened at twelve noon on Sunday, and Rospotrebnadzor sealed it on Monday around one-thirty in the afternoon. Even afterwards people came to pick up and bring food. As far as I know, they keep coming even now. They just leave it outside, and someone has picked it up a few minutes later.
“We had no restrictions. Anyone at all could bring and pick up food. Of course, many old women and old men came to get food. By the way, originally, the idea had been that the refrigerator would be used by people who could not get food through our group page on Vkontakte. Yet many old ladies said they were also willing to bring food themselves.
“I was ready for anything. That the refrigerator would be stolen, that it would break down, that the police and regulatory authorities would come. Rosprotrebnadzor’s visit upset me, of course, but I cannot say I was in shock or didn’t expect it. I tried to be mentally prepared for any outcome.
“Rospotrebnadzor told us that a public refrigerator was impossible in Russia. We could organize a cart to feed all comers or a public cafeteria, but not something in which anyone can donate products. So each volunteer would have to have the relevant papers. If you put pasties or jam in the refrigerator, show us your certificates listing the ingredients and how it was made, stored, and transported.
“Because our project is purely nonprofit (no money is involved), we would not be able to organize something big-scale like a cafeteria. For now, unfortunately, we have nopt come up with a way of doing an offline foodsharing project that would be legal and just as simple as the public refrigerator.
“I really liked the way people reacted well to the refrigerator. I think that matters more than what happened later. If the authorities had allowed us to put it there, but people had not understood the idea and been against it, it would have been much worse. So we just need to find the right form. People both young and old are ready for such a project.”
I don’t like environmentalists. Most of them are insane fanatics who have been victimized by terrorist organizations like Greenpeace. The sole purpose of such organizations is to troll big corporations and c0untries.
—Ilya Varlamov, popular Russian blogger, May 22, 2016
It Is Too Late to Put Out the Fires in the Far East and Eastern Siberia Greenpeace Russia
May 23, 2016
Greenpeace Russia and the federal fire detection system have discovered catastrophic fires in Amur Region, Transbaikal Territory, and Buryatia that cannot be extinguished, because the country simply lacks the manpower and resources to do it.
Here are the data from the Russian Federal Forestry Agency’s Distant Monitoring Information System (IDSM) for a single major fire underway in the Shimanovsk, Svobodny, and Blagoveshchensk Districts of Amur Region. According to ISDM, the fire covered an area of 248,000 hectares as of this morning.
“If current trends continue, 2016 could be the worst year for forest fires since the beginning of the twenty-first century, surpassing the figures for 2003 and 2012 in terms of the size of the forest fires,” says Alexei Yaroshenko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s forestry department.
The area of just one fire in Amur Region is thirteen times larger than the size of the fires listed in the official report for the region and four times larger than all fires reported by officials nationwide.
The size of the remaining fires is difficult to calculate. Smoke prevents satellites from recording hotspots, and experts from viewing burnt black forest. However, according to preliminary estimates, it is also already close to three million hectares. Amur Region accounts for approximately a third of this area, while the rest is roughly evenly divided between Buryatia and Transbaikal Territory.
“We have had problems with divergence [among reported figures] on the sizes [of the fires in] Amur Region, Buryatia, and Chelyabinsk Region, and there have been problems with Irkutsk Region” acknowledged Nikolai Krotov, deputy head of the Federal Forestry Agency. “We do not rule out the fact that political and subjective factors might exist, and information in one format or another is transmitted to the outside world in a different way.”
We should recall that Avialesokhrana’s reports are based on data sent to it by regional authorities.
Can nothing really be done?
Our country has been burning from year to year. Foresters do not have the resources and manpower to put out the fires, while officials do not have the resources and manpower to acknowledge the fires.
“The authority over forest management and firefighting that was transferred to the regions is at best subsidized by the federal budget at ten to twenty percent,” explains Yaroshenko.
Greenpeace Russia demands that foresters be allocated decent financing and released from unnecessary bureaucracy, and that lies about the fires be ended.
How do we calculate the size of fires?
To assess the size of current forest fires, Greenpeace uses MODIS and VIIRS satellite imagery and the FIRMS system for detecting hotspots throughout the entire life cycle of major forest fires. At the same time, Greenpeace follows State Standard (GOST) 17.6.1.01-83, according to which the area of a forest fire is defined as “the area within the contour of the forest fire where there is evidence of fire’s impact on vegetation,” and Paragraph 67 of the Rules for Fighting Forest Fires, which stipulates that “in cases when burning has resumed within five days in the extinguished sectors of a neutralized forest fire, the fire is deemed to have resumed.”
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AM for the heads-up. The paragraph highlighted in red, above, has been heavily altered to reflect the actual quotation from Kommersant newspaper article on which it was, allegedly, based.
Rosneft: “Greenpeace Are a Bunch of Corrupt Scum” NSN
March 18, 2016
Greenpeace said the oil company intends to “bite off” part of a future national park. A Rosneft vice-president responded harshly.
Greenpeace has called on Russians to defend a group of islands on Lake Ladoga from the oil company. In a communique received by NSN, Greenpeace claimed that at the behest of Alexander Hudilainen, head of the Republic of Karelia, the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources plans to transfer nearly 4,000 hectares of the future Ladoga Skerries National Park to the oil company. According to Novaya Gazeta [see translated article, below], Rosneft intends to build a health spa on islands in the protected area.
In an interview with NSN, Mikhail Leontyev, Rosneft’s vice-president for public relations, was categorical.
“Greenpeace are a bunch of corrupt scum. These are people who are paid to attack corporations. I have no desire to service their publicity machine. Spare me from them at least for a day, and better yet permanently,” Leontyev told NSN.
In its appeal to defend the Ladoga archipelago, with its unique Scandinavian landscape, Greenpeace claims the lands the authorities intend to exclude from the park are inhabited by golden eagles, which are on the endangered list, and that seals bask on the area’s shores in the summer.
Alexander Hudilainen has been readying especially valuable forests on the shores of Ladoga for investors
At the behest of the government of the Republic of Karelia, the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources is cutting nearly 4,000 hectares from the future Ladoga Skerries National Park for implementation of investment projects. It is believed that the principal interested parties are subsidiaries of Rosneft, which had previously announced plans to build a major health complex in the Ladoga area. The sale of lots included in the protected area, which has has already undergone an environmental impact statement, could theoretically produce a windfall for the republic’s budget, but in reality it would halt work on establishing the national park, which Vladimir Putin has personally asked to be expedited. A final decision on redrawing the national park’s boundaries is expected within the next week.
The Ladoga Skerries are located along the northwest shore of Lake Ladoga in the Lahdenpohja, Sortavala, and Pitkäranta districts of the Republic of Karelia. A number of rocky islands and narrow straits form a unique picturesque landscape not found anywhere else in Russia. Many attempts have been made to preserve the natural environment in these parts, but for various reasons none of the projects for establishing a specially protected natural area has been implemented. Work on establishing a national park was renewed in 2007 amid massive public discontent over the leasing of lots in the skerries to logging and mining companies.
There was no sign of trouble even a month ago. On the contrary, people were confident that the years-long saga of establishing a Ladoga Skerries National Park (the first plans to create a protected area date back to 1989) was coming to a successful conclusion. On January 29, 2016, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources officially signed off on the findings of a official environmental impact analysis and due diligence review of the grounds for conferring the status of a federal specially protected natural area on the region. The next step should have been a Russian federal government decree establishing the park. But on February 15, a meeting was held at the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources where it was decided to exclude lots totaling approximately 3,750 hectares from the planned Ladoga Skerries National Park in order to accommodate the construction of so-called socially significant facilities. The initiative had come from the Karelian authorities or, rather, personally from head of the Republic of Karelia Alexander Hudilainen, who had in fact made the request to the federal authorities.
Cutting to the quick
According to sources in the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, nearly all of Rautalahti Peninsula and Sammatsaari Island in the Sortavala District, which are part of the Ladoga Forestry Area, as well as several smaller lots in the Oppola and Helylä Forestry Areas, will be almost wholly removed from the nature reserve. Despite the fact that the total area of the planned reserve is over 120,000 hectares, of which approximately 40,000 hectares are water, while the rest is on forest reserves lands, such a loss would be extremely painful. According to Olga Ilyina, head of the Karelian environmental organization SPOK, during the planning stage, several large chunks of the park were cut out to avoid conflicts with local residents. A further reduction of the park’s area would make it impossible to effectively protect valuable natural sites.
“If you look at a map of the park you see it stretches along the northwest shore of Lake Ladoga, and the excluded lots essentially split it into two unequal parts. Most importantly, the greater part of Rautalahti Peninsula is within the conservation area. It is one of most well preserved expanses of Ladoga forests and has high environmental value,” notes Ilyina. “Formally, the park will lose around 5% of its territory, but the already small size of its protected area would be reduced by nearly a third.”
Sabotage behind the scenes
Alexei Travin, coordinator of the NGO New Ecological Project, who joined the battle to save the Ladoga Skerries back in 2006, says that from the outset Karelian authorities opposed the idea of a national park and did whatever they could to sabotage the process of establishing it.
“Both under Sergei Katanandov and his successor as head of Karelia Andrei Nelidov, the process of preparing and approving paperwork was constantly delayed,” notes the environmentalist. “Positive developments have occurred only under pressure from the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.”
One of Alexander Hudilainen’s first steps as head of the republic in 2012 was submitting a request to the Russian federal government to establish a national park. (Without a submission from the local authorities it would have been impossible to launch the procedure for establishing a federal specially protected natural area.) According to Travin, however, there is good reason to suspect that the new head of the republic simply did not understand what he had signed back then, which was why one of the republic’s deputy natural resources ministers, who had drawn up the document for Hudilainen’s signature, was dismissed from his post. In 2012, President Putin asked the government to speed up work on Ladoga Skerries National Park and there was no longer any way for the Karelian authorities to back out. But this does not mean they had resigned themselves to the fact that the “golden lands” on the shore of Lake Ladoga had literally slipped through their fingers.
In the light of recent events it seems the Karelian authorities might have been using the process of establishing a national park to their own ends. Nearly all the lands along the shore of Lake Ladoga, including the islands, were leased in 2006 (on the eve of the transfer of powers over forests to the regions) at the behest of the then-current leadership of the Russian Federal Forestry Agency. In 2015, however, the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources in coordination with the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources had the courts terminate the leases on forest reserve lands in the Ladoga Skerries with the goal of establishing a federal specially protected natural area. In particular, the leases on lots rented by Sortavala Wood and Paper Holding, Ltd., were revoked in January 2015. Meaning that the old tenant’s lots were seized under the pretext of establishing a national park, but Karelian officials are now seizing the same lots on behalf of another investor.
The question of what areas should be excluded from the park has been decided behind closed doors, and at present there is no reliable information about what investors and what projects will be implemented in the area. However, according to sources close to the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources, it is primarily subsidiaries of Rosneft that have been discussed, which would explain both Hudilainen’s involvement in the problem and the unexpectedly loyal stance adopted by the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.
No simple interest
Information about Rosneft’s interest in the area emerged in 2014, when the oil company and the government of Karelia signed a strategic partnership agreement. After meeting with Rosneft chair Igor Sechin, Hudilainen said the company had decided to build a large health center on the Ladoga shore. According to a source, the possible allocation of lots within the planned specially protected natural area had begun to be worked out as early as a year ago, but initially did not find support within the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.
That the ministry agreed to amend the project, despite the fact the environmental impact review had already been completed, confirms that an investor with big lobbying capabilities has gone after the land, potentially allowing it not only to redraw the national park’s boundaries but also to transfer forest lands to another category, a decision that can be made only by the federal government. This turn of events is highly likely. It is worth remembering that, in the past, the current head of Karelia successfully sold off forest lands when he was head of the Gatchina District in Leningrad Region. His role came to light in the well-publicized investigation of the illegal seizure of lands in the Siversky Forest in 2005. However, the scale of the seizures there was considerably less.
According to Olga Ilyina from SPOK, free lots that were no worse in terms of recreation and unencumbered by restrictions on development could have been found on the Ladoga shore. There was no acute need to intrude on the protected area of the park, but the decision to intrude was made all the same, despite the inevitable complications. The option of taking out a long-term lease on the lands removed from the park simply would not justify the effort.
On the other hand, removing forest reserve status from these lots would turn them into extremely profitable assets, whose worth, according to rough estimates, could run into the tens of billions of rubles, if we take into account the going rate for land in the district. This sum, by the way, is comparable to the size of the Republic of Karelia’s annual budget, which was 29.3 billion rubles in 2015 [approx. 388 million euros].
It is unlikely that the deal would be a salvation for the Karelian budget, which has been shrinking because of the economic crisis. It is easier to imagine that the lots allocated for “socially significant projects” would be purchased with earmarked funds and for a tenth of their actual market value, if that much. But for Alexander Hudilainen, whose position deteriorated after he was reprimanded by the president in February, it could be more important to obtain the political dividends.
The Karelian authorities have to account for the investments they have attracted as part of a federal program for the targeted development of Karelia until 2020. Timed to coincide with the republic’s centennial in that same year, the program is now in jeopardy. So a single project with a nominal value of even several billion rubles might prove to be a salvation to Karelian officials.
Sabotaging the park
Whatever objectives the Karelian authorities have been pursuing via the intrigue into which they have drawn the Federal Ministry for Natural Resources, they have planted a bomb under all the plans for the Ladoga Skerries National Park.
Amending the project for the specially protected natural area after it has gone through an official environmental impact review makes it vulnerable in legal terms.
Practically speaking, there are now grounds for challenging the conclusions of that review as well as any regulations adopted on its basis, a challenge that could be mounted by an interested party. In current conditions, according to environmentalists, this could delay the establishment of the park by another two or three years. A second environmental impact review would require money that is not in the budget.
Over this time, the area of the future part could shrink even further, including at the expense of state reserve lands, which were supposed to be included in the specially protected natural area during the second phase of the project. (In the first phase, only lands from the forest and water reserves will be included in the park.) The Karelian government has virtually put these lots up for sale already, although it should have set them aside in order to establish the specially protected natural area. Thus, on a website entitled The Investor’s Republic of Karelia, there is a description of an investment project involving the sale of thirteen land plots, totaling 137.1 hectares, on the eastern half of Sammatsaari Island, for recreational purposes. This particular page is hidden in such a way that it is impossible to find on the site’s main menu.
This may mean that the sabotage of the national park has been planned deliberately, and then the damage would be not be limited to removing the above-mentioned 3,750 hectares from the park. Within two years, the Ladoga Skerries could be ripped to shreds. Or, on the contrary, has Alexander Hudilainen on his own initiative unwittingly provoked a classic conflict of priorities by essentially putting the interests of Rosneft above those of the head of state? This conflict might be resolved in the most unpredictable ways, including for the man who started it.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy ofGreenpeace Russia. Thanks to Comrades AK and SY, as always, for the heads-up. Thanks to Comrade EN for the geography lesson.